Thursday 18 January 2018

That's the way to do it

MOVIES: Indie coming-of-age flick is an absolute delight, writes George Byrne

It's always the way. You wait years for a well-crafted indie coming-of-age comedy-drama and then two arrive in the space of a week. Last week it was the job of The Kings of Summer to charm audiences with its depiction of innocence coming to an end one crazy summer, and now The Way Way Back takes us down a similar thematic path.

Penned and helmed by actors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who've already bagged the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for The Descendants so their way with proper storytelling is a given, The Way Way Back focuses on Duncan (Liam James), a shy, introverted 15-year-old. From the off, we see him being browbeaten to the point of bullying by Trent (Steve Carell), his mother's new boyfriend, as they all travel to Trent's summer house in a seaside resort.

That Pam (Toni Collette) allows her son to be treated in such a manner speaks volumes for the insecurity she feels after a messy divorce, and by the close of even the first scene you get the impression that there'll be tears before the holiday is over.


The writers set things up beautifully, quickly introducing the key characters and then allowing the story to develop organically. Allison Janney shines as a boozy neighbour, while AnnaSophia Robb plays her daughter Susanna, a girl who catches Duncan's eye but is clearly out of his league, even if the doofus could untie his tongue long enough to speak to her properly.

All is not lost, however, with Duncan gaining self-confidence by getting work at a water-park where he's taken under the wing of the gregarious Owen (Sam Rockwell) and the summer begins to fall into place. The story has a great heart, with the tension growing between Pam and Trent as the cracks show in their relationship, matters not being helped by the fact that most of the adults behave more like teenagers than the teens themselves.

Like The Kings of Summer, even though The Way Way Back is set in the present day it sometimes feels like an '80s movie pretending to be set during the '50s, but that's fine, especially when you have a coherent, believable story and uniformly excellent performances. Toni Collette is a rock as the conflicted Pam, Carell excels as a controlling creep and Sam Rockwell steals the show as the wisecracking Owen, a perpetual teenager whose inability to face up to adulthood perplexes his longstanding partner Caitlin (Maya Rudolph). It's not hard to see why Fox Searchlight stumped up $10m to purchase a film which cost less than $5m to make, as the studio looks for the next Little Miss Sunshine or Juno. The Way Way Back does share certain traits – not to mention key cast members – with those movies, but it's very much sure of its own identity and is an absolute delight. HHHHI

Anyone who thought that it was some kind of post-modern prank getting Morgan Super Size Me Spurlock to direct a One Direction tour documentary where we'd see a deconstruction of the pop process will, I'm afraid, be very sadly disappointed with This is Us. No scenes of debauchery a la the Rolling Stones 1972 tour of North America, no pressure-induced meltdowns such as we saw from David Bowie in Cracked Actor, but rather a by-the-numbers account of the group as they move from arenas to stadiums in order to feed their growing worldwide fanbase.

However, once you get past the fact that this is very clearly a product aimed at a specific market (oh, and once their evil mentor Simon Cowell's smug face disappears from the screen) it's certainly nowhere near the most onerous viewing experience I've had this year. And, amid all the backstage larking about and the age-old 'who farted?' scene on the tourbus, there are occasional glimpses of the surreal experience it must be being a member of One Direction.

There's a telling moment where they're besieged in a Nike store in Amsterdam which could be straight from Dawn of the Dead, and one rather sad little clip where Louis's mother lets slip the fact that since he left for that X Factor audition three years ago, he's only been home for a total of five days.

One Direction: This is Us was never going to be A Hard Day's Night or, as if, Head, but at least it's not Spiceworld, and for that we can be truly grateful. HHHII

For its first 20 minutes or so, You're Next shapes up like a bog-standard slasher flick. A college professor and his student girlfriend are brutally murdered – after having sex, naturally – with the words 'You're Next' painted in blood on the wall, before we're introduced to their neighbours in a big, isolated house.

The Davison clan are gathering for their parents' wedding anniversary and a right bunch they are, too. Underachieving Crispian (AJ Bowen) and his Australian partner Erin (Sharni Vinson) are probably the most normal of the bunch, but even a child could figure that the weird Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and his goth girlfriend Zee (Wendy Glenn) are not playing with a normal deck.

But, as the group are attacked by men in pig masks wielding crossbows and machetes, it gradually dawns that the makers of You're Next aren't playing the standard slasher game, but are mucking about with the conventions of the home invasion movie. To reveal any more would be mean, but once the halfway point is reached You're Next canters along in a thoroughly enjoyable fashion, with Sharni Vinson's resourceful Erin set to become a poster girl among horror aficionadoes. An unexpected delight. hhhhi

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